I am trying to think of examples of modern technology that I knew
firsthand as a child in the thirties.
There was a magneto-operated party-line telephone hanging on the wall;
it rang from time to time, but hardly ever with "our" ring, two shorts and a long. In fact, I can't remember anybody in the house talking on that phone. My grandfather hated the thing. If there was some neighboring farmer he wanted to talk to, he did what he had always done: open the screen door, walk out of the house and down the road, and see the man face-to-face.
There was a telephone. What else?
There was a wind-up Victrola with one-sided, scratchy recordings of
Nelson Eddy, Harry Lauder and Enrico Caruso, and a shiny round box built in
beside the turntable to hold the steel needles We changed the needles
frequently; one needle worked as well as another, none of them very well.
And there was a radio. It was a battery-powered Montgomery Ward floor
model in the shape of a Gothic arch, with a great round dial that glowed orange
when the radio was turned on. Printed on the dial were not numbers, but
letters--the call letters of the radio stations of the day, KDKA, WGN, WCKY, and the others. Understand, none these stations actually came in on the radio, but it was magical to think that some night they might. The only station we could be pretty sure of receiving was WPTF in Raleigh, the capital of our state. I don't remember anything that was said on the radio. I remember only that voices came through the air. I didn't know how it worked. (I still don't know how it works.)
These were all luxuries, of course. Everything that made that farm work
was based on ancient technology, indeed. A spinning wheel and a loom filled a
side room. There, on winter afternoons, my mother and grandmother had long,
affectionate talks while weaving shawls or bedspreads, just as women had
done since the fifth millennium.
Before the great day when electricity arrived on the farm, I learned to
read by the light of a kerosene lamp with a glass chimney, very much (except for the fuel) like the lamp by which children of colonial America learned to read--and only a slight improvement over the design of the lamp by which children learned to read in imperial Rome.